Earlier, we opined that the origin of life problem is solved (or anyway hugely advanced to a solution) by just tuning out the solution-of-the-month and recognizing that there is something wrong with the way it is being pursued. New York Times science writer Ferris Jabr sure goes us one better in “Why nothing is truly alive”:
Not only is defining life futile, but it is also unnecessary to understanding how living things work. All observable matter is, at its most fundamental level, an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles. These associations range in complexity from something as simple as, say, a single molecule of water to something as astonishingly intricate as an ant colony. All the proposed features of life – metabolism, reproduction, evolution – are in fact processes that appear at many different regions of this great spectrum of matter. There is no precise threshold.
Some things we regard as inanimate are capable of some of the processes we want to make exclusive to life. And some things we say are alive get along just fine without some of those processes. Yet we have insisted that all matter naturally segregates into two categories – life and nonlife – and have searched in vain for the dividing line.
It’s not there. We must accept that the concept of life sometimes has its pragmatic value for our particular human purposes, but it does not reflect the reality of the universe outside the mind.
But how would this impact origin of life research?
Some of us would have said that the key characteristic of life is its immensely higher level of information (not complexity as such) than non-life. Thoughts?
See also: Origin of life problem solved! (Deafness is a pretty radical solution so try selective deafness instead.)
Is there a good reason to believe that life’s origin must be a fully natural event?
Here’s a quick summary of the avenues that have been tried, at one handy go: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life)
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